Crime & Punishment in “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
There are differing perspectives that influence people’s actions and how they treat others. Some people’s behaviors are influenced immensely by the perceptions of others. Priest vs. the World in the story Les Miserables represents extreme perspectives that explain the behaviors of Jean and Javert, the main characters in the story. Reappraisal, empathy, and emotional intelligence played a major part in influencing people’s perception of crime, punishment, and redemption.
Perception on Crime
Priest vs the World hold differing perceptions on crime. The priest believes that those involved in the crime have a second chance and can be forgiven if they are ready to change. This is demonstrated by Myriel, who despite knowing that Jean had stolen his silverware, forgives him. Conversely, the world supports that criminals should pay for their crimes. An example is the imprisonment of Jean to pay for his crimes.
Knowing that the world was determined to criminalize Jean and make him pay for his crimes, the priest was determined to make him a transformed man. If the world had done a perception checking to understand why Jean was involving himself in crime, then their perception would have changed about crime. According to Adler and Proctor II (2016), world perceptions can lead to challenges or success. The world’s perception of Jean as a criminal led to more negative outcomes. If they had understood what was happening with him and shown empathy, his life would have been better.
Perception on Punishment
The world perceives punishment as means to reform and believed punishment would change Jean and help him to become helpful to the community. As a result, a police known as Javert, is determined to arrest Jean and punish him for his crimes. However, the priest has a contrary perception about punishment and believes in showing love, generosity, and grace to wrongdoers. The priest did not punish Jean for stealing his bread but instead covered him to escape police arrest making him decide to become an honest man.
The priest’s perception caused Jean’s behavior to change and became a town’s mayor. He was motivated by the priest’s kindness and decided to reciprocate by supporting Cosette after losing her mother. If the world had sought some interpretations from Jean’s behaviors, it would have perceived punishment differently and considered supporting him to become stable or even rehabilitate him. Jean’s shared experience and perception of punishment made him intervene for Fantine when the police wanted to arrest her for prostitution. People gain empathy from shared experiences (Adler & Proctor II, 2016). He had gained empathy from his past experiences and was convinced that punishment was not the only solution.
Perception on Redemption/Forgiveness/Grace
The priest believes in remaining graceful to criminals and forgiving them. He decided to shelter Jean and protect him even after he stole from him. The priest emphasizes unending grace. The world does not believe in grace and forgiveness. Jean lived an unsettled life knowing that the world knew he was a criminal and would not rest until he paid for his crimes. As a result, he resorted to hiding his identity to fit within the society. The priest’s actions of grace towards Jean were motivated by the world’s perceptions of forgiveness. The priest’s compassion would not have changed if he had done perception checking. He knew Jean had been stolen from him but chose to forgive him. The priest’s emotional intelligence made him empathetic towards Jean. Adler and Proctor II (2016) state that reappraisal helps people assume a different perspective like in the case of the Priest.
Empathy gain, reappraisal, and emotional intelligence influenced the world’s and priests’ perceptions on redemption, crime, and punishment. The Priest’s perceptions on the three aspects led to a positive change in Jean’s life. The priest showed empathy towards Jean and made him a changed man. However, the world believed that remaining cruel to Jean would make him a changed man. The priest’s emotional intelligence made Jean exhibit empathy from shared experiences with other people like Fantine.
Adler, R. B., & Proctor II, R. F. (2016). Looking out, looking in (15th Ed.). Cengage Learning.